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The common tit is not a bird!

August 31, 2012

It is a purple-blue lightning, it is a longan pest, it is a two-faced Janus, it is the butterfly Hypolycaena erylus (Lycaenidae).

The ‘common tit’ is common in Chiang Mai and throughout its range including northern India and Southeast Asia. What is not seen from this still picture, is that the two pairs of swallowtails of the hindwings move. The outer pair mimic a pair of antennae, complete with club-like structures. The inner pair resemble a pair of front legs. The purpose of being a Janus is to trick enemies trying to sneak up on the butterfly. Thanks to the movements of the fake antennae, the enemy would think the rear is the front, and when trying to go behind this wary butterfly will see the enemy and escape. The tails break easily if caught between jaws and the butterfly still survives. The larva feeds on a variety of host plants, including longan, cinnamon, kapok, Indian jujube and Senna.

This picture catches the details of diagnostic value. The underside has an orange ‘eye’ which together with the ‘antennae’ may confuse a predator. The family Lycaenidae, commonly called ‘blues’ in English, encompass over 400 species in Thailand. Many are now rare due to their adaptations to a lost world.

Both pictures were taken at Dokmai Garden on August 30, 2012. The butterfly is wild and was not caught with a net. It came to sip water and minerals from a wet towel and from my hand (the lower picture). The ongoing drought is tough for all creatures.

If you wish to identify some of your own Chiang Mai garden butterflies, you can compare with the Dokmai Garden list which includes some of the most common ones. A good book on butterflies is Pisuth Ek-Amnuay’s ‘Butterflies of Thailand’ with more than 1000 species.

Text and Photo: Eric Danell.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. roland mogg permalink
    August 31, 2012 11:02 AM

    i would love to see a list of plants/climbers/bushes (with pictures) that will survive hot weather and attract butterflies to lay eggs and provide food. if possible. thank u.

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